Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Nathan Mertz, general manager of Piere's Entertainment Center, cleans up debris left by renovations taking place at the venue.
Newly remodeled Club Fuze is currently up and running at Piere’s.
Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette After years of being a hot spot, Piere’s fell into disarray. Under new ownership, the hope is to attract national acts that will bring the crowds back.
Sunday, August 20, 2017 1:00 am
Breathing new life into Piere's
Former city hot spot vies for return to glory
SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette
Upcoming events scheduled at Piere's Entertainment Center include:
Sept. 27: Fozzy with Gemini Syndrome
Oct. 6: Falling In Reverse & All That Remains
Nov. 10: Red & 10 Years with Otherwise
Piere's was once the local place to see and be seen on a Saturday night.
With five nightclubs offering distinctly different experiences under one roof, Piere's Entertainment Center catered to rock, country, hip-hop and electronic dance music fans in the 1990s and early 2000s.
It offered a place to play pool, sing karaoke, ride a mechanical bull, drink neon-colored shots from test tubes, dance like a maniac or attend a concert by nationally known acts such as Willie Nelson, Marilyn Manson, Eddie Money or Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.
But times – and tastes – change. Piere's lost its allure after owner Stan Liddell died in February 2013 and a fire damaged the venue and neighboring tenants a month later.
A new owner is trying to rekindle the spark that made Piere's a local hot spot. The publicity-shy investor is spending about $250,000 on upgrades, according to the general manager, who is renovating and reopening one club at a time. The effort coincides with a new landlord's investment of more than $2 million in the surrounding shopping center.
The challenge of reviving the Marketplace of Canterbury will be easier if Piere's finds its footing again, landlord Daniel Gentile said. But he's hedging his bets just in case.
When Gentile bought the Marketplace of Canterbury in June 2016, the northeast Fort Wayne shopping center was nothing if not a fixer-upper.
Trees were badly overgrown. Pavement was broken. Some store roofs leaked. Even the lights in the parking lot didn't work.
“The place was in such shambles for the past year that people were scared off,” Gentile said during a phone interview last week.
The Chicago-based owner of Riviera Plaza, a shopping center across the street, wasn't interested initially in placing a bid on Marketplace of Canterbury, which was available after a bank foreclosure.
“But I Googled it and found out it had been an iconic destination in Fort Wayne,” he said. “Everyone knew it.”
Gentile, who submitted the only bid, spent three times what he'd expected to get the property back into shape. And the work won't be completed until sometime next year.
“It's been one hell of a project,” he added.
It didn't help that the largest tenant was also going through a transition. Piere's isn't the multistate draw it used to be, but Nathan Mertz is busy trying to change that.
Working in stages
After a failed, eight-month experiment that saw the venue renamed The Hub Entertainment Center late last year, Piere's is back.
Mertz, Piere's general manager, can be found in the club most days, meeting with contractors, vendors and music promoters.
One corner of the building reopened for business in late-May, about a month after new owner Clyde Thatcher bought the business, which leases about one-third of the Marketplace of Canterbury.
If it seems like the parking lot is deserted, that's because the crowds don't come out until about midnight or later on the weekends.
Club Fuze, a dance club, received paint, carpeting and a new dance floor, which is surrounded by a railing. Crooners, the karaoke bar, is the latest to be renovated.
By tackling the work in stages, Piere's is able to maintain a presence on the local entertainment scene. Remaking everything at once would have required shutting everything down for four to five months, Mertz estimated. The move also generates steady income.
Mertz, who has worked in bar, marketing and event promotion for more than 20 years, is trying to manage impatient customers' expectations.
“We have two options,” he said. “We can do it right, or we can do it fast.”
His patience extends to on-order exterior signs, which will feature thousands of LED lights.
“This isn't something that we're doing for the next six months. This is something we're doing for the next 20 years,” he added.
Just like it takes time to renovate a building, it takes time to get on the touring schedules of national acts. But Mertz, a Fort Wayne native, is committed to recapturing Piere's popularity from 15 to 20 years ago. Plans are to host diverse bands, mixed martial arts fight nights and other events.
“There will basically be something for everybody in town here,” he said.
That includes those concerned about safety. Mertz is committed to preventing fights before they start. Piere's had been the site of shootings and other incidents over the years.
No problems were detected during a recent Young Dolph rap concert, when 25 security guards and four police officers were on site, Mertz said.
“It's a moral thing,” said the father and stepfather of seven. “If I don't feel like my kids can come out here, then I shouldn't be doing it. Because I'm asking your kids to come out here.”
A thriving Piere's could help attract more customers deeper into the shopping center, helping surrounding retailers, Gentile, the landlord, said.
Patrons who come to Marketplace of Canterbury for a concert can't get a haircut or a tattoo at midnight, but just seeing that those services are available there might prompt them to return during regular business hours.
The same goes for Guacamole's, a new Mexican restaurant, and other tenants.
Lana Pulver, who owns Pulver's Pub, has leased space in the shopping center for more than 11 years. She appreciates the improvements Gentile has made and hopes the momentum continues.
It's possible her small bar could attract new customers if more people find it. But, she said, the loyal clientele has been enough to keep her in business.
Gentile expects the shopping center's reputation to rebound as more patrons venture beyond the busy fast food retailers that line St. Joe and St. Joe Center roads.
McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and others own their buildings and the ground beneath them.
Gentile's holdings don't include those outlots beyond the shopping center's main parking lot.
That includes Snickerz, the comedy club that closed last year.
If Piere's doesn't take off the way he hopes, Gentile will consider his options.
The 30,000-square-foot space could be reconfigured into a grocery store, he said.
Pulver also hopes Piere's does well, but didn't sugarcoat its considerable challenge, which includes competing against Embassy Theatre, Foellinger Theater and Clyde Theatre, which is undergoing major renovations.
“It's got to be very difficult because it's not a cheap operation to take on,” Pulver said.
To regain solid financial footing, Piere's will have to generate substantial – and steady – revenue to cover its bills.
“You need to be creative,” Gentile said, “or you're not going to be able to pay the rent.”